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Countertops: Rock-solid and elegant

Leap Stone (January 19, 2008)


Kitchen designers choose granite for durability and ease


It used to be that granite countertops graced only high-end kitchens. Increasingly though, the coarse-grained rock made mostly of quartz is providing surface support to homes of all income levels.
"We′re seeing a lot of imported granite, which is a little thinner and not quite as consistent in color," says Suzie Williford, vice president of sales at Kiva Kitchen & Bath. "But people can get it for less than a solid surface, such as Corian, because it has become a much more competitive product."

Some customers opt for granite over marble because it is less porous and, in turn, more durable than marble, experts say.
Last summer, the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) surveyed 20,000 remodelers across the country. The survey found that 30 percent of countertops installed were granite. Not surprisingly, laminate, the most affordable choice, was also the most popular, accounting for 33 percent of installations.
Still, says Williford, who is president elect of NKBA, buyers at almost any price range can afford some kind of granite.
Houston kitchen and bath designer Micqui McGowen says granite is the most popular countertop with her clients — particularly if it has been honed or antiqued. "A honed finish is a process where they take the shiny surface off the granite and leave a soft, matte look," says McGowen, co-owner of Kitchen and Bath Concepts. "The antiquing process gives the matte a texture — a soft, ripply look and feel." 

Granite is also versatile. "Sometimes we do a light granite on the main countertops and a more unusual or darker granite on the kitchen islands, so it looks more like a piece of furniture," McGowen says. Cost is based on multiple factors, including how the granite is cut and treated and how much labor is involved. "Edge details have a lot to do with the price," adds McGowen. Pre-fabricated pieces, which can be purchased through fabricators, already have edge details and tend to be less expensive, she says. The least expensive way to go is a 3/4 -inch polished edge.



Compare the materials

GRANITE

Best for: Homes without messy family members and those who want an upscale, distinctive look.

Price: $40-$75 per square foot installed.

Pros: Natural beauty in multiple finishes and exotic colors; can pick your own slab; resists heat, is durable and waterproof; can be honed to produce a matte finish.

Cons: Is porous and stains if not properly sealed; can scratch; bacterial concerns.

Maintenance: Needs sealing once or twice a year by homeowner.



SOAPSTONE

Best for: Trophy kitchens or those that don\\\\\\\'t get a lot of use.

Price: $60-$125 per square foot installed.

Pros: Earthy appeal that oxidizes over time to produce a dark color with light veining; nonporous; scratches can be repaired with sandpaper; resists germs and bacteria.

Cons: It′s soft and can chip, especially on corners; limited color choice.

Maintenance: Leave alone or rub with mineral oil every 4 to 6 weeks.


QUARTZ (Silestone, Cambria, Zodiaq)

Best for: Those who cook a lot and have messy family members.

Price: $40-$90 per square foot installed.

Pros: Durable, nonporous, resistant to scratches and stains; doesn′t chip; more uniform appearance; no bacterial issues; many choices; some have 10-year warranty.

Cons: Not as natural-looking; undermount sink has to be cut carefully to match.

Maintenance: Needs no sealing or refinishing; easy to clean.



WOOD

Best for: Country-look kitchens or kitchens with mixed styles of countertops.

Price: $40-$65 per square foot installed.

Pros: Provides a warm and homey look; available in a wide range of colors and finishes; is easy to clean; can be sanded and resealed; some are waterproof and scratch resistant; suited to imaginative shapes.

Cons: Can be damaged by oil and stains over time, but spills wipe up easily. Sanitize with 20 percent white vinegar and water; wipe with oil periodically.

Maintenance: Fine sandpaper removes surface scratches. Requires periodic sealing and refinishing to remove scratches, dings and dents. Apply satin finish oil to restore luster.



MARBLE

Best for: Pastry prep or trophy kitchens not used for much cooking.

Price: $40-$115 per square foot installed.

Pros: Beautiful and natural-looking; waterproof, heat resistant; offered in a wide range of colors.

Cons: More porous than granite so it′s prone to etching and stains; bacterial issues; chips; not strong enough for heavy-use kitchens.

Maintenance: Needs annual sealing. Use mild cleaners without vinegar or citric acid.



STAINLESS STEEL

Best for: Those who want a contemporary, industrial look and for second homes.

Price: $80-$110 per square foot installed.

Pros: Nonporous; resists bacterial growth; offered in a variety of finishes; heat resistant; will not fade or chip; can be made with an integral sink for a seamless look.

Cons: More expensive than granite or quartz; may scratch or dent; fabrication is expensive; can′t cut on it directly.

Maintenance: Like stainless appliances, can fingerprint and is time-consuming to keep it looking clean. Towel dry after use. Clean with mild cleanser only.



SOLID SURFACE (Corian, Swanstone, Avonite)

Best for: High-traffic kitchens where a lot of cooking is done.

Price: $49-$63 per square foot installed.

Pros: Durable, long-lasting, heat and stain resistant; nonporous; has inconspicuous seams; resists bacterial growth; can be repaired easily; some offer 10-year warranty.

Cons: Falling out of fashion; is not as natural-looking as stone; not heat or scratch resistant.

Maintenance: Soapy water or ammonia-based cleaners will remove most dirt and stains. Minor blemishes can be sanded out or removed with mild household abrasive.



LAMINATE (Formica, Nevamar and Wilsonart)

Best for: Budget-minded homeowners.

Price: $30-$40 per square foot installed.

Pros: Easy to install; resists stains and heat; durability has improved; choices are varied, including those that resemble granite.

Cons: Doesn′t add as much value for resale; scratches and chips almost impossible to repair; most have visible seams, although some post-formed seamless versions are available.

Maintenance: Cleans easily.



Source: 2007 Houston Chronicle 2007